A smell wafts across the room as student after student raises their hand when they are able to smell the substance. They are then asked to draw a model to explain what happened in this scenario. Is the smell represented by waves? dots? squiggles? Through a series of activities and readings the model is revisited again and again throughout the unit, as students work to develop their understanding of the particulate nature of matter based on these new experiences.

Teachers in the Baraboo School District are using IQWST for the first time this year and seeing great gains in students’ ability to understand complex science concepts. There are activities that engage them in science practices so that the room is a scientific research center where students are arguing their claims with evidence as well as analyzing and interpreting data. One teacher says that she can stand at the side of the room and the students can run the class themselves as they question, collaborate, continue investigating and arrive at a consensus model. Imagine that happening in your classroom! Motivation is high since students have a reason to stay interested because they are answering a specific question, (How Can I Smell Things from a Distance) that relates to their everyday life. They look at all kinds of phenomena that are part of their day to day existence and see that science is everywhere and they can explain at least a part of that. That’s a powerful skill for them.

One of the highlights of the program is the incorporation of literacy into each unit. The readings are of distinct interest and we find that kids actually will read them for homework, when in the past they had problems accomplishing this. Our literacy coach has been very impressed with how the readings are used to help students understand the material, especially since they are designed to meet Common Core Standards. Her work in helping us has been a breeze since so many aspects of literacy are already included in the materials. Another benefit is having the framework of how to write scientific explanations in the form of a claim backed by evidence and tied together with reasoning. Students are able to do this in the classroom with science concepts and are transferring that learning to other areas such as language arts class and their own lives. They can actually come up with an answer to, “How can I keep mosquitoes from biting me?” and “How can a skunk’s smell be helpful?”

I love the driving questions and scientific principles so much that I’ve been incorporating them into units that I’ve been putting together for elementary science. “Can I Believe My Eyes?” and “Why Do Some Things Stop While Others Keep Going?” just beg for an answer and kids can keep going back to that again and again. Having the science principles posted in class as they are developed also reinforces where they’ve been in the learning process and gives them a way to reason with their claim and evidence. I can’t imagine going back to a different way of teaching after seeing IQWST in action in the classroom!

Karen Mesmer, Science Coach and Teacher

Jack Young Middle School - Baraboo, WI

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